Combine kickoff: 49ers have two plans for FA

The 2006 NFL Combine opened with many unanswered questions on Thursday, with the 49ers at the center of the one with seemingly the most importance.

Most of the NFL coaches and personnel men in attendance were asked about the lack of a collective bargaining agreement and it became clear that is a big issue that teams are very concerned about because of the uncertainty surrounding it.

Niners head coach Mike Nolan said his team has two plans for free agency. The first plan is contingent on a new CBA being reached by next week, and the team also has a Plan B in place if a new CBA isn't completed by the beginning of free agency in March.

That was a constant response from just about each team that was in Indinapolis on Thursday. The league could be entering unchartered waters at this time next week.

The other big issue that teams are dealing with this week is whether to designate a franchise or transition player. Thursday was the deadline for teams to make such designations, with the 49ers declining to designate a franchise or transitoin player for the first time since 2003.

The biggest surprise of the day was the Vikings using the transition tag on cornerback Brian Williams, who entered the 2005 season as the team's nickel back. Williams took over the starting job for veteran Fred Smoot after Smoot got hurt, and Williams didn't relinquish the job.

This move seemed to catch a lot of the national media by surprise and many are wondering what this says about Smoot's job security. Or is another move in the works?

The other move which caught many off guard was the Seahawks' decision to name offensive guard Steve Hutchinson as their transition player, not their franchise player. While the move saves Seattle a little room under the salary cap, another team can sign Hutchinson to a lucrative offer sheet.

Seattle then would have a decision to make: Match the offer and retain his services for the length of the deal or not match it and receive no compensation. A team such as Arizona, for example, who has a lot of room under the salary cap and needs major help on its offensive line, could make an offer which Seattle might find difficult to match.

Of course, the big focus Thursday was on college players and their future.

While the players don't work out until the weekend, it's clear that whether they choose to do so or not was a big issue for NFL teams as well as the national media.

At the 2005 combine, the number of players that worked out was up from the year before. If Thursday's interviews were any indication, there should be a pretty solid number of players that will choose to work out.

Because some positions are light on depth or top-end talent, some players could make a big move up draft boards as former South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson did after his performance during last year's combine. His agent, David Canter, sensing a lack of sure-fire talent at the position, had Williamson work out here and his workout was so good that he moved well up draft boards.

Who are the players working out this weekend that will move up draft boards? Stay tuned to sfillustrated.com, which will have updated reports from the combine throughout the next week.


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